Complicated jobs are nothing new for Eastern Millwork. Founded in 1992, the Jersey City, NJ-based firm manufactures architectural woodwork, and has created the interiors for performing arts centers as well as casegoods for healthcare and offices, out of its 40,000-square-foot facility.
Technology is an important and integral part of the operations, says President Andrew Campbell. The company’s computer-driven production approach utilizes 3-D modeling and Building Information Modeling (BIM), using AutoCAD and information flow to facilitate a concept of “high velocity manufacturing.” Plans are completed before making any cuts, rather than adjusting the fit on site, saving time and labor costs.
Campbell says that basically, BIM is 3D modeling a building in a way that every trade can put in their own model, whether it’s structural steel, sprinklers, plumbing, electricity, or mechanical contracting. When the models are in, it is possible to see if something is potentially going to clash or coordinate. Information from the models can be used to fabricate complex pieces precisely to how they will fit into the building.
Campbell says some of his inspiration and interest in technology as it applies to woodworking production came when he was on a Stiles Tech Tour in Germany and met a host of young German engineers. He was impressed with the depth of their education, which focused on modern technology while maintaining traditional woodworking craftsmanship, even recruiting some of them to work at Eastern Millwork. Campbell says that others have joked that his company is “a technology company that happens to be in woodworking.”
“I think it is kind of true,” says Campbell. “A lot of people think you can’t leverage technology. They have said our people were not craftspeople and my response was ‘I have craftsman, they just use different tools. My craftsmen hold a mouse.’ I equate that to the fact that pre-power, carpenters used hand tools and steam-driven equipment. With electricity they moved on to power tools and machinery. The craftsman wasn’t lost in that transition; he was just a different type of craftsman. Things are transitioning again, and the craft is not lost, it is just a different toolbox and different applications to more effectively come out to the same solution. “
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Manufacturing Complex Jobs
One of Eastern Millwork’s larger, more complex projects involved the renovation of Rockefeller University’s Collaborative Research Center. The company has done other theater renovation and build-outs and installations within Lincoln Center, Goldman Sachs, Madison Square Garden and the Hearst Center.
The 125,000-square-foot Rockefeller project was initially designed to be a metal frame with a wood slab, but was too expensive to build. Eastern Millwork recommended using all wood, and provided a PE calculation showing that wood would be strong enough. The turnkey project, including engineering, fabrication and installation, took nearly three years to complete; the scroll wall alone took one year.
“We approached it using a BIM model, and then went out with robotic surveying equipment and justified the model and made sure it was accurate,” says Campbell. “From that model we wrote the algorithm that built all the panels, then brought them out and did floor-to-floor sections. We used a small, Italian crane that we could drive into the elevator and lift up to the floor. It would open up like a big spider and reach out to the atrium. We mechanized the approach to manufacturing it and installing it. Instead of doing it one slab at a time over a metal frame, we were able to bring these big wooden sections and do it in big pieces.”
Automating Shop Flow
Automation, along with technology, has also been an essential part of Eastern Millwork’s business strategy. Manufacturing is automated for yield and productivity. Among the equipment in place is the Bargstedt Intellistore for inventory management.
“I knew I had hard working guys, but I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting the yields that the machines were designed to produce,” Campbell says. “So we started videotaping our operation and it became more apparent what the problem was. Our guys were waiting for information, or they were waiting for the material. Those were the two things. So we really worked on our whole program, where we push the information digitally through our pipeline. “
Using the inventory management system allowed the company to take some of the material handling out of workers’ hands and have the Intellistore perform it, which not only reduces labor, but is also more precise. The machine robotically stores and magazines all parts in process, sends them to the correct machine, and ultimately to assembly.
“You have equipment like double edgebanders built to do big batch sizes, but when you are working on a batch size of one, you need to reconfigure things,” says Campbell. “This is what does it. So you can think about a process across a broader spectrum of work orders or items, recapitulate them so that they are grouped together how you want them for a particular process, and then put them back into their original work orders collated back to where they belong.”
Also used in the shop are: an Italpresse shuttle press line; Holzma rear loading saw; Homag throughfeed postformer and edgebander; Weeke CNC machining centers; Ligmatech case clamp; a Brandt contour edgebander; a Pertici CNC double miter saw; along with machinery from SCM, Raimann, Weinig and Costa.
Using a proprietary system, bar codes and RFID chips help track jobs through production and delivery. “In our shop we are tracking the product and part labels, and we track the package all the way through shipping and installation,” says Campbell. “We are tracking time back to the work order, by item and by employee, all from the same network of bar codes. Every time they are linking into that they are telling us what they have done and how long it took.”
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